By Lucien Rousselot
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Lucien Rousselot (1900-1992) was a military Painter and illustrator. He produced a vast number of illustrations of the French Army from the 17th to the 20th century. His singular work was The French Army of the First Empire. He produced illustrations and commentary for both magazines, Passepoil and La Sabretache. He is considered one of the major military iconologists of the 20th Century.


From the book by Philip Cranz published by Uniformology in 2006

Of all the French military organizations in history the most romantic is the Army of Africa. French historian Jules Richard, who provided the text for Edouard Detaille’s L’Armée Francaise – Types Et Uniforms published in 1889, writes “From 1831-1852 the French Special Army of Africa was a breeding ground of valiant, active officers, and from 1852 to 1870, the reserve for the elite of the National Army. It was a kind of second Imperial Guard but more flexible and more available than the actual one.”

The Army of Africa was divided into six organizations. The infantry was comprised of the Zouaves, Algerian Tirailleurs, Foreign Legion, and the Light Infantry of Africa. The cavalry was made up of the Chasseurs d’Afrique and the Spahis.

Like the Mamelukes of Napoleon I’s army the Arab costume of the native troops of Algeria became very popular. The Zouaves served with distinction in the Crimean War and their valor and their exotic costumes inspired uniform designs around the world. Such was the influence on the United States that Zouave styled militia companies were formed in the North and the South before the United States Civil War.  The Berber Zouaoua tribe from the mountains of Algeria was recruited to for the first two battalions of Zouaves in 1831. A third Battalion was raised in 1838. In 1840 when the Algerian Tirailleurs ( Tiralleurs Algerien) were formed the Zouaves were changed to become a purely French unit made up of French Algerians who served out their military conscription in the Zouaves. In addition to service in Algeria they were on campaign in the Crimean War, the Mexican Expedition, the Franco-Prussian War, and the First World War.  Because they were a metropolitan regiment in France, they are not covered in this series.

The Foreign Legion

There is no more romantic or famous military organization in all of history that is more famous or respected than the French Foreign Legion. The Foreign Legion was so named because its soldiers were from countries other than France. To simplify things the Legion was made up of soldiers from other countries that had for one reason or another left their own countries. They served with valor in the Crimea, Mexico, Tunis, China, Tonkin ( Vietnam), World War I, the Legion continued its service through the 20th Century and still serves to defend French interests to this day. 

The Chasseurs d’ Afrique

The original Algerian Chasseurs were formed by royal decree in March of 1831, they were attached to and administered by the Zouaves. Seven months later on November 17,1831 the Chasseurs d’Afrique were officially created with a strength of two regiments. According to Jules Richard “Never were there finer regiments, more numerous, more well maintained in every detail of dress, armaments, remounts and training. The men came there from other corps by their own request and through the process of selection. All the replacements for the cavalry were also sent there. If the volunteer enlistees who flowed into their ranks were sometime the sons of prominent families who had played around too much, they knew how to redeem their civilian sins with some heroic strokes of the saber.”  In addition to serving in Algeria they saw meritorious service in the Crimea, Italy, Mexico, the Franco-Prussian War and the Far East.